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Gen Z driving value-based purchasing and continuous improvement in organic

USDA organic has an expanding fanbase in Gen Z. The Consumer Perception of USDA Organic Report released earlier this year from the Organic Trade Association, revealed that young people are driving the growth of organic as they prioritize value-based eating. 77% of Millennial and Gen Z survey respondents described organic claims as at least somewhat important to them, jumping from only 55% of Gen X and Baby Boomer consumers.   

The Consumer Perception Report, available to purchase or free with OTA membership, contains over 40 pages of insight to help your company understand the organic consumer and market opportunity.  

While USDA organic food sales have grown consistently since the seal was created in 2002, the organic non-food sector remains poised for growth but is hindered by regulatory uncertainty. Consumers are seeking sustainable purchasing options in several categories with underdeveloped organic regulations including personal care, supplements, pet food, and seafood. The 2024 Organic Industry Survey showed organic personal care and supplements sales have both roughly doubled in the last 9 years – demand is strong. However, lack of regulation around what it means to manufacture these products discourages companies from investing in organic product lines.  

Meanwhile, in other categories, lack of regulation has stifled organic growth. Organic pet food sales shrunk by 7% in 2023, despite consumer interest in planet-friendly options. Without fully developed organic pet food standards, it is difficult for companies to distinguish themselves from their “natural” competitors. OTA recently submitted comments on the proposed organic pet food standards and applauds USDA for advancing rulemaking for the sector. Consumers are also concerned about seafood sustainability; prioritizing traceability and responsible harvesting in their purchasing. As the demand is pushing suppliers and food service operations to source sustainable seafood, USDA has been slow to advance rulemaking on establishing criteria for certifying seafood as organic in the U.S.  The EU and South America have established organic standards for aquaculture operations, and those imported products are being sold as organic in the U.S.  

The 2024 Organic Industry Survey, free with OTA membership and available to purchase, will empower your company to better navigate the organic marketplace. 

USDA organic regulation is intended to evolve over time to incorporate new and emerging science, industry practices and consumer expectations. Unfortunately, the federal regulatory apparatus has slowed innovation and continuous improvement within the industry.  One recent update to the organic rules was the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule, which better aligned the standards with consumer expectations for animal welfare under the USDA organic label.  It took over fifteen years of advocacy to get this rule complete, and in that time many organic producers underwent dual certifications to deliver on consumer expectation.  Unfortunately, the OLPS process was not unique. In the last 20 years, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has advanced 19 consensus recommendations for additional organic standards, but the National Organic Program at USDA has only completed rulemaking on 5 of them.  

USDA organic regulations must keep pace with consumer expectations for the organic seal to maintain integrity and relevance and maximize on the value-based purchasing driven by younger generations. The Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards (CIAO) Act (H.R.5973) is the solution to clear the regulatory backlog. CIAO is a bipartisan bill that adds transparency and accountability to the federal regulatory process for organic. CIAO creates a regulatory process for the National Organic Program to make revisions across 5-year cycles based on public input, tangible evidence and science, and recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board. The legislation has garnered a diverse coalition of supporters across the entire organic industry. OTA is advocating for the inclusion of CIAO in the Farm Bill so that timely and transparent organic rulemaking can finally open the door for organic innovation and ensure that all generations have confidence in the USDA Organic seal in their search for transparent and sustainable products. 

By Laura Holm, Legislative and Farm Policy Associate